Colombia has thrown off the reigns of its troubled past and is fast becoming the number one destination for backpackers in South America. With over 3200 km of coastline, the country’s beaches draw huge crowds each and every year. But how do you go about finding the best beaches in Colombia?
Whether you’re looking for busy beach resorts, an adrenaline-fuelled water sports holiday or a deserted stretch of sand, keep reading to discover South America Backpacker’s favourite Colombian beaches!
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1. Palomino Beach
- Located: Colombia’s Caribbean Coast – 2 hours from Santa Marta and 9 hours from Cartagena
- Best for: Relaxing and enjoying beach vibes
After taking on the challenging Lost City Trek, most backpackers are keen to relax and soak up some of Colombia’s Caribbean Coast for a few days. With little to do aside from lounging on the beach or by one of the many hostel pools, Palomino is the perfect place to unwind, allowing your feet and legs time to heal!
Budget backpacker accommodation is plentiful and most is within a stone’s throw of the beach. Not to mention, the seafood is some of the freshest we’ve encountered outside of Copacabana in Bolivia! For the finest fresh fish in Palomino simply walk along the beach until you meet the river, here you’ll find plenty of options at incredible prices!
Tubing is popular in Palomino town and you can follow the river all the way to the beach. Be aware, when you approach the sea, it’s time to get off the tube. The currents are super dangerous along much of Colombia’s Caribbean coastline and sadly, drownings are common. Avoid entering the sea unless you have a lot of experience combating riptides and are confident in your own abilities. Swimming is completely banned on many Colombian beaches so be aware of the rules for each area you are in.
If you are bored with lazing on the beach or just missing your fluffy friends from home, reach out to Palomino Animal Soul. This charity helps cats and dogs in the area by providing food, care and medicine. For a small charge, you can go out for a walk with a group of dogs, before taking them swimming and enjoying a great lunch. Puppies and lunch in paradise, we’re sold!
Where to stay near Palomino Beach:
2. Playa Blanca
- Located: Isla Baru – Around 1 hour from Cartagena
- Best for: Fans of watersports
Playa Blanca divides opinion amongst backpackers. Some see it as an idyllic Caribbean beach, with soft sand and azure waters, whilst others see it as another wonderful spot that has been destroyed by tourism.
The beach can be found on Isla Baru which until the 1500s was actually a peninsular and not and island. During the era of Spanish colonialism, a canal was built, separating Baru from the mainland entirely. Until construction of a bridge over the canal started in 2014, the only way to get to the island and the wonderful Playa Blanca was via ferry or speedboat. Whilst this little complication wasn’t enough to deter the hardy backpackers, it did keep tourist numbers on the beach down to a trickle. However, after the bridge was successfully completed, it was open season.
Getting to Playa Blanca today is easy. Public transport can take you all the way from Cartagena but you will have to make multiple changes to get right to the beach. Tourist trips also run from Cartagena but these only leave you with a few hours on the beach before returning to the city. The best option, albeit a little more expensive, is to get the shuttle service from Mamallena Hostel, which is available to everyone, not just their guests. This will get you to the beach before the crowds descend and leave you with first pick of all the best spots.
If you’re looking for a quiet, isolated beach to spend the day, Playa Blanca is not for you. It is busy with locals and tourists alike and the water is often filled with jet skis or speedboats. You can hire these from vendors along the beach if you’re keen for an adrenaline hit!
Be aware, the beach gets really busy at weekends and during national holidays (every other weekend seems to be a national holiday in South American countries) but even then, it is still possible to find a good spot towards the end of the beach.
If you want to experience Playa Blanca at its most exquisite, consider staying the night in one of the beachside accommodation options. These range in price and quality and many of the budget options don’t have flushing toilets or running water but it’s all about the experience though, right? For the price of a beer or two you could spend your night swinging in a hammock listening to the ocean lap against the shore. After 6pm the crowds are all but gone and the beach returns to it’s natural quiet state. Unless you stay too close to one of the party hostels that is…
Where to stay near Playa Blanca:
- Located: Colombia’s Caribbean coast, very close to the Panama border
- Best for: Isolated beaches
It’s impossible to talk about the best beaches in Colombia without discussing those that surround the small jungle town of Capurgana. Located right on the edge of the infamous Darien Gap, Capurgana is often neglected by tourists making it the prime location for adventurous backpackers!
Picture dense jungles, clear seas and icing sugar sand and you’ve got a pretty good image of Capurgana’s beaches but each one is worth experiencing in its own right.
It should be noted that a few of these beaches are right on or just over the border with Panama so you may have to cross checkpoints to get to them. Remember your passport!
a. Playa Soledad
Known as Capurgana’s main beach, Playa Soledad is by most standards, a quiet paradise. Expect to share the beach with a few locals, the odd backpacker and vendors selling coconuts and bloody strong cocktails!
The crystal clear waters are full of sheltered coral reefs which make for an amazing spot to snorkel and follow the colourful fishies. After your dip, head up the beach and find a nice shaded spot in which to soak up the atmosphere of this laid back place.
b. El Aguacate (Avacoda Beach)
El Aguacate is a beautiful two hour hike from Playa Soledad but you could also grab a boat ride there if you’re short on time. The small stretch of sand is perfect for lazing the day away or jump into the green waters for snorkelling just as spectacular as that on Playa Soledad.
c. Acandi Beach
As well as being another stunning spot, Acandi Beach is famous for the leatherback turtles that arrive in droves around Easter time to lay their eggs. If you are there at the right time, it is worth going for this spectacle alone. You will need to go at night and will need a tour guide but the chance to see the world’s largest turtles lay up to 100 eggs each shouldn’t be missed!
d. La Miel
Although it is officially located in Panama, hiking to La Miel from Capurgana will take you just a couple of hours. Not only is this breathtaking stretch of white sand an amazing spot to spend the day, you also get to walk from one continent to another, waving at the border guards on the way past!*
*You will probably have to show your passport but you shouldn’t require any visas or stamps.
e. San Blas Islands
Not strictly in Capurgana, the nearby San Blas Islands make for a great day trip or overnight stay. In the past, the only way to get to these islands as a tourist was to stop off while crossing from Panama to Colombia via yacht, therefore cutting out the Darien Gap which has no roads and is ruled by paramilitary groups, drug traffickers and some of the most deadly plants known to man.
Due to the popularity of the San Blas Islands, these days it is possible to arrange a day trip or overnight stay from Capurgana.
Where to stay near Capurgana:
- Located: Caribbean coast, near Santa Marta and Tayrona National Park
- Best for: Backpackers looking for a laid back town with no frills
Taganga started off life as a sleepy fishing village. However, in recent years Taganga has become a hotspot for travellers. Whilst some backpackers complain about dirty streets, rubbish on the beaches, issues with crime and the less than stellar welcome they received from locals, others have fallen in love with the place and a few have never left.
Much like Capurgana, Taganga has a few notable beaches just a stone’s throw away. It is worth mentioning that the currents and riptides at all these beaches can be lethal. There are many cases of tourists drowning so if the signs say don’t swim, don’t swim!
a. Taganga Beach
The closest beach to the town is simply known as Taganaga Beach. This is where lush jungle meets golden sand which falls away into turquoise waters. It gets busy with the locals, especially at the weekend so prepare yourself for some searching if you are intent on finding a quite spot.
b. Playa Grande
Just a short walk along the coast is Playa Grande. Often touted as the most beautiful beach in the area, Playa Grande is even more popular with locals, especially at the weekends when people coming flooding in from Santa Marta.
c. Tayrona National Park
The beaches in Tayrona National Park are not to be sniffed at. Cleaner than those closer to Taganga and with way less foot traffic, this is where you want to go to escape the crowds. If the beaches here bore you, then head off along one of the many jungle hikes to see what else the park has to offer. Just don’t stray too far off the beaten path, no one wants a jungle rescue mission to deal with!
Where to stay near Taganga:
- Hostel Nirvana Taganga ($)
- La Provinciana Hostel House ($)
- Taganga Paradise Hostal & Diving ($)
- Sierraventura Hostel ($)
5. Playas de Providencia
- Located: 500 miles north of mainland Colombia, in the Caribbean
- Best for: Quiet, relaxing days
Providencia is a lesser known island in the San Andrés Archipelago. Getting there is a bit more challenging than just jumping on a bus but the rewards are well worth the effort!
There are only two ways to reach the island and they both involve going through San Andres, the largest and busiest island in the San Andres Archipelago. You can fly into San Andres from almost any Colombian airport and most flights take between 1 and 2 hours. Once you have arrived at San Andres, you can either catch another flight to Providencia, or get a ferry.
Whilst the flights are well priced and much quicker (only 20 minutes or so) than getting the ferry, they are often booked up way in advance. For those of you not wanting to be tied down to dates ahead of time, getting a flight might not be practical but you can often book a ferry just a day or two in advance.
Once you arrive at Providencia you will be greeted by an island only 7 km long and 4 km wide. This tiny spit of sand is home to around 5000 inhabitants and has strict limits on the amount of tourists that are allowed to visit each day. These limits keeps the island from being overrun and means that the lazy Caribbean charm will remain for decades to come.
As far as the individual beaches on the island, they really are all amazing. Soft white sand between your toes, gorgeous palm trees providing shade and some of the clearest water imaginable lapping up against the beach guarantee a spot of quiet tranquility. We recommended hiring a scooter for a few days so you can visit each of the beaches multiple times before settling on your favourite.
Where to stay near Playas de Providencia:
6. Rincon del Mar
- Located: Caribbean coast
- Best for: Chilled vibes and an old school backpacker scene
Rincon del Mar has been growing in popularity recently but for now, is still an authentically lazy fishing village. I’m quickly running out of ways to describe stunning seas and white sands but trust me, Ricon del Mar provides everything a backpacker needs.
If lazing on the beach for days on end isn’t for you, there are plenty of other things to get your proverbial teeth into. During the day, travellers can seek out spear fishing trips with local fisherman and even learn how to free dive. This activity involves diving for extended periods of time with no equipment, using a special technique for holding your breath. Only the bravest backpackers will attempt to learn this skill!
At night, it is possible to head out to sea and swim with glowing bioluminescent plankton. Can you even say you’ve been travelling if you haven’t swum among these tiny glow in the dark creatures?!
Getting to Rincon del Mar is relatively simple. From Cartagena, grab a bus heading to San Onofre. The bus takes around two hours but that is not the end of the journey. From San Onofre, you will need to find a taxi or moto to take you the rest of the way. This will take around 30 minutes so if things are running on time (remember you’re in South America – nothing runs on time) the whole journey should take you under 3 hours.
Where to stay near Rincon del Mar:
7. Playa Blanca at Lake Tota
- Located: Boyaca, in the Colombian Andes
- Best for: Bird lovers
Lake Tota is the largest lake in the Colombian Andes at almost 60 square kilometres and is the largest fresh water reservoir in the country, delivering clean water to over 350,000 people!
Not only is the lake big but it’s also high, really high. At just a smidge over 3000 metres above sea level, just walking towards the water will take your breath away and that’s before you take into account the stunning mountain backdrop!
Playa Blanca is THE spot to head to if you are around Lake Tota. Located on the lake’s southern shore, this stretch of golden sand is where the locals spend their summers relaxing, listening to music and having an all round good time. Don’t expect to have the beach to yourself! There are quieter spots around the lake but none of them as picturesque as Playa Blanca.
All you monster hunters and cryptozoologists out there will be pleased to hear that Lake Tota has its very own monster. Known as The Monster of Lake Tota, or Diablo Ballena (Devil Whale), this beast is said to have inhabited the lake as far back as the Muisca civilisation. So watch your toes while swimming in the cold water!
For those of you not so into fairytales but still with a penchant for rare animals, the lake is home to some of Colombia’s endangered bird species. Feathered friends such as the Apolinar’s Wren and the Bogotá Rail call the lake home so get your binoculars ready!
Where to stay near Playa Blanca, Lake Toda:
Notable Mention: Casa en el Agua
- Located: San Bernardo Islands
- Best for: Losing a few days
Whilst not strictly a beach (it’s not actually a beach at all…) we couldn’t fail to mention Casa en el Agua in this list. For backpackers who want to spend their days chilling by the sea with a cold beer in hand, what better place to stay than a hostel that appears to float on tropical waters.
Don’t worry, this eco hostel won’t float out to sea while you sleep. It’s actually built on a sturdy concrete foundation which has survived for the last quarter century. With no running water and only composting toilets, Case en el Agua is a rustic retreat in the middle of the ocean but that is certainly not a reason to avoid it.
Words really don’t do this place justice so instead take a look at the pictures. I challenge you not to imagine yourself staying there the moment you see it!
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